It is well documented that Queen Elizabeth II’s abiding sporting fascination was horse racing, a sport that grew into a deep passion after she was gifted a pony named Peggy at the age of four.
She began horseback riding at the age of six and by the time she was a teenager the Queen had become an accomplished rider.
However, her interest in breeding and owning racehorses came when she inherited the National Stud from her father King George VI in 1952.
As an owner, she won many major races in the UK, Ireland, and France but there was one race that eluded her grasp until her dying day – the coveted Epsom Derby, the jewel in the crown of British racing.
However, she did come painfully close on two occasions, the first being in 1953 when a horse called Aureole finished second.
But the second was more poignant because it almost became a Royal fairytale.
Carton House, who was named after a mansion in Westminster that was the town residence of King George IV, was the favourite that was expected to end the Queen’s agonizing wait for a Derby victory.
But as fate would have it, Carlton House was narrowly beaten to third place in an epic renewal of the great race, so denying the Queen a long-cherished win in six decades of trying.
The story of how the Queen came to acquire Carlton House is a riveting narrative that involved another legend in the sport – His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
In 2009, Sheikh Mohammed wanted to buy Highland Glen, a rogue horse that the Queen was hoping to get rid off.
The Queen was embarrassed by Sheikh Mohammed’s interest in the naughty horse and instead of selling it, gave it to him as a gift.
Highland Glen was brought to Dubai where he even redeemed himself and won a race at Meydan racecourse, much to Sheikh Mohammed’s delight.
After that success, Sheikh Mohammed contacted John Warren, the Queen’s long-time racing manager to offer four yearlings he had handpicked himself, as a reciprocal gift to the Queen.
I was lucky to contact Warren to get the inside story on this extraordinary exchange of horses between two of the sport’s biggest patrons.
“It was a typically generous gesture from His Highness,” Warren told me during a telephone conversation from his Highclere Stud in England.
“Sheikh Mohammed hand-picked them himself, and Carlton House was one of them.
“It was a great thrill for Her Majesty who was looking forward to seeing Carlton House run in the Derby after demonstrating his credential with several good performances.
“Winning will mean a lot for Her Majesty and will be absolutely fantastic for racing. I think we all saw the level of interest that the Royal Wedding generated. Most people who follow the Queen know that horse racing is her passion, her deep interest, her hobby,” added Warren.
“Perhaps if she wasn’t the Queen, she would have made a wonderful trainer.
“She has a unique affinity with horses and quite clearly loves being with them. Her understanding of horses is extraordinary and she’s very positive. She’s always looking forward and never disappointed when a horse loses. She’s very accepting.”
One body language expert Darren Stanton, analysed the Queen’s love of horses and horse racing describing her with these comments in the Express: “The Queen’s love of racing and the extreme passion that she shows once again just demonstrates how human and down-to-earth the Queen is as she is showing all the normal emotions that we all display,” he began.
“This is evident in footage of her celebrating her horse, Estimate, winning the Ascot Gold Cup in 2013; the footage of the Queen watching her horse triumph is one of the most revealing and fantastic pieces of footage of the Queen there is. The Queen makes several interesting gestures and often leans forward when watching her horses, which is a sign of great interest. When watching her horse win, she has the most genuine and engaging expressions of enjoyment on her face.”
And there were many of those occasions, including Carrozza, the Queen’s first British Classic winner, the 1,000 Guineas heroine Highclere, Epsom Oaks scorer Dunfermline and the majestic Estimate, who landed the Queen’s Vase and the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.